College meal plans provide college students with some of the comforts of home while living in a residence hall. Most colleges require that students living on campus pay for one of these meal plans, but you can usually opt for the cheapest and most affordable plan to save money. Some colleges even give students the option of adding extra funds that they can use in restaurants on or near campus. If you plan on going away to school and living on campus, you need to add the cost of a meal plan to your budget.
Types of Meal Plans
Meal plans generally consist of a specific number of meals that you can purchase throughout the week. The cheapest of those plans usually includes between 12 and 15 meals, but the more expensive plans may let you buy three meals every day throughout the week. Some schools will let you fill your tray and take just one meal off your plan. Other schools will limit the amount of food you can purchase to $10 or less in a single meal. Each time that you swipe your card, even if you use your card twice during the same meal time, it counts as two meals purchased.
Meal Plan Cost
The average cost of your plan depends on where you go to college. According to the Money for College Project, the average price of a meal plan is around $1,600 a semester and lets you spend between $7 and $11 on each meal you eat on campus. A smaller plan that provides you with 15 meals throughout the week may cost around $1,000 to $1,200 per semester. If you opt for one of the larger plans that gives you 18 or more meals each week, you might pay $2,000 or more.
Who Needs One?
Though you may think that you can get through college without eating in the dorm cafeteria, think again. Most colleges and universities today require that all students living on campus buy college meal plans. You’ll need to sign up for one of these plans before you sign up for classes. The college will issue you a card that automatically records the amount of meals left on your account each week. Though you no longer need a meal plan once you move off campus, some schools offer plans for commuter students that let you deposit funds into your account or pay a small fee to dine in campus cafeterias in between your classes.
Getting the Most
Getting the most out of your meal plan is easier when your school offers flexible dining dollars. These programs let you use some of your meals at restaurants close to campus. Other programs let you add extra money that you can use to pay for meals off campus without needing to carry cash or a credit card. Before picking a plan, think about how much time you’ll spend on campus and how many meals you think you’ll eat every week.
As a student living in a dorm room on campus or in a residence hall, you’ll probably need to buy a meal plan. College meal plans may cost $1,200 or more per semester, but those plans let you get a full meal at least once a day and may help you pay for food from local restaurants too.
See also: What is a 529 Savings Plan?